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Lawrence David Butterfield was charged with assault with intent to kill in 1977. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to a psychiatric institution. He was released in 2002. But in 2010, he was arrested and charged with stabbing his roommate to death.

Voices had told him to kill, he told the arresting officer, so he got a hunting knife and killed.

The Pierce County prosecutor brought murder charges against Butterfield four times, most recently in July. But the doctors at Western State Hospital concluded each time that the disturbed man was not competent to stand trial.

Butterfield still believes there are voices emanating from a microphone implanted in his brain, according to the latest July 20 competency evaluation.

But the revolving door for Lawrence David Butterfield has again swung around toward freedom. He was scheduled to be released as early as Sept. 6. Now a group of Washington prosecutors and legislators are lobbying to keep him locked up.

“While my office has tried to prevent his release, the criminal justice system was not designed to handle persons so mentally ill that they will never be competent to stand trial,” wrote Mark Lindquist, the Pierce County Prosecutor, in a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee last week, asking for Butterfield to remain committed.

“The last time Mr. Butterfield was conditionally released he took a man’s life,” added Lindquist.

The history of violence for Butterfield, now 61, extends back decades—and starts right at home.

Butterfield was accused of assaulting his father in the 1970s with a weapon twice—once with a knife, once with a gun. But the charges were dismissed because he was deemed not competent to stand trial.

In 1977 he was charged again with assault with intent to kill his father, resulting in his being deemed criminally insane, and subsequently committed to Western State Hospital. At that massive psychiatric institution he was determined to be a chronic paranoid schizophrenic, with intellectual disabilities and violent tendencies.

He was released in 2002.

His roommate, 53-year-old James Bradshaw, ended up stabbed to death on their apartment balcony in Puyallup in 2010. Butterfield told the officer who arrested him he had heard voices telling him to kill—so he acquired a hunting knife and stabbed Bradshaw to death.

The Pierce County prosecutor brought charges in 2010, and again in 2013, 2014 and this year. Each time it was due to the office receiving notice Butterfield was being considered for release. But each time, Butterfield was deemed incompetent to face the charges.

The latest July evaluation considers that Butterfield remains a risk—even with precautions taken. The “moderate to high risk for future serious dangerous behavior” is only if he remains medicated, according to the prosecutor’s office. If he does not take his psychiatric drugs, the risk will be higher, officials said. The accused killer “continues to exhibit disorganized thoughts and confusion and cognitive slowing,” while he “appeared unable to process information.”

The current plan for his release has 14 conditions for him to live by. It includes Butterfield living in senior housing in Lakewood, Washington, and receiving mental health treatment some 15 miles away in Puyallup, Washington—but with no travel provisions for him to get between the two locations, according to the prosecutor’s office.

“From his competency evaluation, there is no indication that he has the mental capacity to understand, remember, or adhere to these conditions,” Lindquist writes. “The proposed release plan is setting Mr. Butterfield up for failure and placing the community at risk.”

The prosecutor has gained an ally in the state legislature over Butterfield’s potential release. State Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-28th Dist.) also urged the governor to put the brakes on the patient’s release, in a letter last week.

“Nothing about this case suggests a wise course of action would be to release this dangerous man into our community,” said O’Ban, in a statement.

“The civil commitment doctors at (Western State Hospital) who are proposing Mr. Butterfield’s release do not seem to be taking the safety to the community into consideration or the risk assessment of their own doctors on the forensic side,” added Lindquist. 

Tara Lee, a spoekswoman for Gov. Inslee, said the Butterfield release has been postponed indefinitely - and that no specific release date had ever been set. She told Forensic Magazine in a message that public safety was "paramount."

"His case is under review," Lee said.

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